Standard Lesson

Unlocking the Underlying Symbolism and Themes of a Dramatic Work

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Two 50-minute sessions
  • Preview
  • |
  • Standards
  • |
  • Resources & Preparation
  • |
  • Instructional Plan
  • |
  • Related Resources
  • |
  • Comments


This lesson invites students to explore the things relevant to a character from Lorraine Hansberry's play A Raisin in the Sun, such as Mama's plant, to unlock the drama's underlying symbolism and themes. Students explore character traits and participate in active learning as they work with the play. Students use an interactive drama map to explore character and conflict, and then write and share character-item poems.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

In "Dialogue with a Text," Robert Probst explains, "If we accept the idea that literature ought to be significant, that readers have to assimilate it and work with it, that transforming it into knowledge is more significant than memorizing the definitions of technical terms, then we need to find some ways of bringing readers and text together, and of forcing upon readers the responsibility for making meaning of text." The best activities, then, encourage students to make their own meaning out of what they read and to discover for themselves the beauty of great literature. In practice, this lesson allows students to choose objects and ideas on their own. Without fail, given this chance, students choose the significant symbols and themes in the play and are able to explore their meaning with little prompting or direction.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Class set of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun (or another play)

  • Internet access and computers

  • Chart paper and markers, or board and chalk



  • Before this session, students will have read the first scene of the play. They can do the reading in class or at home prior to the session.

  • Test the Drama Map student interactive on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • explore the traits of a character in detail.

  • identify symbolism and themes in a play.

  • participate in active learning, taking the responsibility for making meaning of text.

Session One

  1. Ask students to choose a character from the play whom they will focus on for this activity. Explain that they will choose one character from the play, explore that character, and then write a character-idea poem about an object associated with that character.

  2. Once students have chosen a character, introduce the Drama Map student interactive. While you may return to the interactive as you continue to read the play, for this session students will complete only the Character Map and the Conflict Map.

  3. Ask students to complete and print these two maps to gather their preliminary ideas about the character.

  4. Once students have all completed their maps, explain the character-item poem in more detail. Ask students to think of some item that could be associated with the characters they've chosen, based on what is known about him or her from the first scene. The item that students focus on can be a prop, explicitly named in the play, or it can be an unnamed item or an abstract idea. Any item is appropriate as long as it is something that the student relates to the chosen character.

  5. Introduce the following formula for the character-item poems:
    Line 1 State the item's name
    Line 2 Give a literal description of it
    Line 3 Give a figurative description of it
    Line 4 Give one adjective for it
    Line 5 Give another adjective for it
    Line 6 State what the thing does for the person
    Line 7 Give a final description (adjective then noun)
  6. (Optional) Share the sample poems "Mama's Flower" and "Dream." Sharing the poems may influence the choices that students make as they write their own poems. Decide whether to share the samples according to student need.

  7. Answer any questions that students have about the poems. Ask them to complete their poems for homework and to come to class ready to share what they've written.

Session Two

  1. Invite students to share some of their poems.

  2. As students share, note the names of the items that they have written about on the board. When an item is repeated, add a tally mark beside the item name.

  3. After all the students who want to share their poems have done so, ask the remaining students to share the names of the items that they have written about so that you have a tally of all the items on the board.

  4. Ask students what they can conclude from the information on the board. It's likely that you'll see predictable patterns on the board (for instance, perhaps one-fourth of the class has written about Mama's Flower). Resist the temptation to point them out. Allow students to notice and comment. The questions below can be starters for the discussion, but encourage the conversation to roam where it will.

    • Why do you think more of us wrote about _____________? (Fill in the blank with the item that was most repeated)

    • How are these items related? Do any of them have things in common?

    • Are any of these items symbolic?

    • Do any of these items tell you anything about the themes that will unfold in the play?
  5. With basic ideas of the symbolism and themes from the first scene of the play outlined, ask students to pay particular attention to these ideas as they read the rest of the play.


  • Once students have read the full play, return to the character-item poems. Ask students how they would change their poems based on the events that happen in the remainder of the play.

  • Complete the remaining maps in the Drama Map student interactive after you've finished the play.

  • The 9-12 EDSITEment lesson plan A Raisin in the Sun: The Quest for the American Dream focuses on the guiding question, "How does the play A Raisin in the Sun mirror the social, educational, political, and economical climate of the 1950's and how does the play illustrate the impact this climate had on African Americans' quest for ‘The American Dream'?" The lesson provides excellent materials for continuing study of Hansberry's play.

Student Assessment / Reflections

As students discuss their poems and the play, listen for comments that indicate students are identifying symbols and themes in the play as well as discussions where students test out ideas about the play. The goal of this lesson plan is to encourage students to make their own meaning as they read a text. Nothing can squash their participation in that act more quickly than an assessment system that suggests that there are “right” and “wrong” answers. Feedback on this activity, then, will be most successful when it takes the form of providing provocative questions that urge students to think more deeply and scaffolding comments that enable students to try out their ideas.

Maggie Chernick
K-12 Teacher
I love this poem idea...I've used it several times and the kids always do a wonderful job with it...
Maggie Chernick
K-12 Teacher
I love this poem idea...I've used it several times and the kids always do a wonderful job with it...
Maggie Chernick
K-12 Teacher
I love this poem idea...I've used it several times and the kids always do a wonderful job with it...

Add new comment